Tuesday, May 9, 2017

REVIEW: 'The Americans' - Philip Has a Surprise for Elizabeth as Paige Faces a Brutal Realization in 'Darkroom'

FX's The Americans - Episode 5.10 "Darkroom"

Paige's snooping leads Philip and Elizabeth to make a choice that could shift the balance of their lives forever. Stan and Aderholt's recruitment of Sofia suddenly bears fruit.

The Americans has been a bit of a slow burn this season. That has always been a strong quality of this show. It's a part of the nature of the work these characters do. They try to keep these relationships alive and beneficial for as long as possible. But it also plays as the show feeling very confident and deliberate because the end game has already been set. It has one more season and that's it. This season still isn't offering any clues as to how all of this will go awry for Philip, Elizabeth and their family. It's still just maintaining their missions while adding more complications on top of them. It's fun and compelling to watch. But the big, shocking moments haven't occurred as much this season as they did a year ago. Of course, that's perfectly fine as well. That doesn't have to be the main storytelling mode for this show. But "Darkroom" proves that it still knows how to hit the audience with some incredible and devastating moments. All of the buildup was necessary because this is a crucial turning point for this entire family.

For the first thirty minutes or so, this episode plays as normally as possible. It focuses on the characters learning more about their missions and forcing things to happen. Philip and Elizabeth deal with the fallout from Tuan. They chose not to report him because he's really good at this line of work even though he made this mistake. Meanwhile, they are punishing Pascha to make his life as miserable as possible. Elizabeth is telling Evgheniya to fight for what will make her happy - which is ultimately wanting to go back to Moscow. And Philip gets Tatiana from the Rezidentura to ensure that Evgheniya won't face any punishment should she decide to go home. All of this is solid progress on this mission - even though it's clearly weighing on Philip and Elizabeth as well. The same can also be said of Claudia telling them they'll need to maintain the Topeka missions for years as the Soviet scientists work on the super crop. It shows the pain that comes from this job but the two of them still choosing to do it anyway because they have to do it for their country. It's dour and depressing but necessary as well.

Everything seems to be making Philip and Elizabeth feel that way. They are handling a lot at the moment. There are things that they do know for certain and then there are the things they are worrying and uncertain about - like the virus from William being weaponized and Renee possibly being someone from the Centre working Stan. That's what makes it so surprising and uplifting when Philip asks Elizabeth if he wants to make their marriage official. It's a shocking question. But one that reaffirms just how strong this bond truly is. They carry a number of secrets because of their jobs. This will be yet another one they'll have moving forward. But they'll carry it together. They are a team. They are committing to this partnership. They've committed for years already. But it was all just playing a part in order to blend in as a normal suburban family in America. They were paired together. They were strangers in a strange country. The show has brought them so close together. They rely on each other even though they also worry that they have greater feelings for other people. This ceremony is special because it's them declaring that they are what they want even after all of this is over and they go back home as heroes. This is the life they want to be living for as long as possible. That's so special and rewarding. Yes, the ceremony may ultimately be too religious for Elizabeth. But it's the best that could happen under these circumstances. It's the two of them being honest and open with each other in a way that could lift their spirits.

The timing of all of this is very important as well. Yes, the stress of all their missions is wearing them down. They have gotten victories this season but none of them have felt all that great because they came with moral complications. Elizabeth is good at compartmentalizing all of these feelings. Meanwhile, Philip has typically found solace at his EST meetings. But now, they may no longer be enough because his problems are becoming so overwhelming. He's juggling a lot and can really only trust Elizabeth with the full truth. It's a performance with everyone else. He still cares about people. He doesn't want Stan to end up like Martha. But he doesn't want to accept that he's just a machine in this world doing a job and that's it. He wants more clarity or purpose than that. This wedding may be spontaneous. But it's Philip trying to take control of his life again. It's still not as real as he would like. They still have paperwork to file when they return to Moscow. They have to keep the new rings stashed away in the laundry room. But it's more real than his marriage to Martha was. They are using their real names. That's commitment. It's the next step in their relationship even though it may be wishful thinking that they'll one day return to the Soviet Union as one happy family.

Philip and Elizabeth getting married in secret isn't the only crucial turning point for the family either. Paige finds herself at a crossroads with Pastor Tim. That has always been a tenuous relationship ever since she learned about her parents' true identities. Religion gave her so much comfort. But now, that relationship is work. She has to be a constant presence in his life to ensure that he doesn't expose her family. She's been really conflicted about all of it for so long. Her parents have made their intentions known. Sometimes they are subtle - like offering to get Pastor Tim his dream job. But other times they are brutal and forceful - like demanding Paige see him every single day and report back to them. They've been opening themselves up to her this season. They haven't shared all the complications of the wheat mission. But they do make her believe that they made a major difference in the world. Their actions prevented a global food crisis. Knowing that and the fact that Pastor Tom writes down his hesitations about Paige in his journal really sends her spiraling. She's getting bolder and bolder with the spycraft. She was actively searching for the journal. But she is simply not well-equipped to handle the things he says about her in there.

That final sequence is so absolutely devastating. It comes right after the wedding where Philip and Elizabeth believe that things will be better moving forward. Instead, Paige returns home with photos that she took of Pastor Tim's journal. What happens next is Philip and Elizabeth fully welcoming Paige into their world. For once, she's a part of the secret meeting in the laundry room. She doesn't know all that they all doing. But she's there to witness all of it. This is her entering the family business. But once the pictures develop, it shows the true darkness of Pastor Tim's thoughts. He truly believes that Paige is the most abused person he has ever had to deal with. It's brutal to watch as the camera pans across the pages to reveal more and more details of his thoughts on this family. He is truly horrified by what happened to Paige and truly doubts that she'll ever be able to trust anyone again. It's a brutal and grueling moment that they experience as a family. They may be able to live in denial of it. Just say that he's wrong and move on with their lives. But there will probably always be that nagging suspicion of: What if he's right? What if they really have damaged Paige to the extent that she'll never be a properly functioning human being? That thought could prove disastrous for this entire family. It also shows that this series still knows how to leave the audience stunned. 

Some more thoughts:
  • "Darkroom" was written by Stephen Schiff and directed by Sylvain White.
  • This is the first trip to the Rezidentura this season. I'm surprised by how much I missed that environment now that Oleg is in Moscow and Arkady is reassigned elsewhere. Plus, Tatiana is still around and could prove to be an important ally to have in the future.
  • Things are pretty tense and complicated with Oleg's family as well. He still has no idea why his government is investigating him. That dinner scene with the family is so awkward but also appropriately lingers for just the right amount of time. 
  • Sofia has gone to the dentist four times already. Her teeth are getting better and she's happier. Plus, she may have given Stan and Aderholt a promising new lead on how Soviet agents bring sensitive material into the country. 
  • Doesn't it seem like Renee is always trying to get Stan to do something crazy and out of his comfort zone? Last week it was skydiving. This week it's karaoke. She's a very adventurous person even though Stan doesn't want to do any of it. 
  • Evgheniya comes clean to Elizabeth about the affair she's been having and how difficult it has been for her family lately. Meanwhile, Alexei confesses to Philip that he is trying to fight less in order to keep the family strong and together. 
  • Paige is all for Henry going to the boarding school he wants to go to. She sees it as his chance for a better life that'll make him happy. She thinks he should have that opportunity.